Commentary

Daisuke Matsuzaka hard at work

Updated: February 15, 2010, 10:01 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Considering that he is about to begin his fourth full season with the Boston Red Sox, shouldn't the days of culture clash with Daisuke Matsuzaka be just about over?

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein offered a qualified yes Monday, while insisting that the 29-year-old Japanese pitcher and his American employers are not at odds.

"Any inference that he and the club are battling one another, that's just not true," Epstein said Monday. "His attitude is great."

No one on the Red Sox was saying that last year during a summer of mutual aggravation for the ballclub and player. The Red Sox were unhappy that after his second straight MVP performance in the World Baseball Classic, Matsuzaka showed up in camp out of shape. He eventually was shut down with what the club called a tired shoulder and wound up winning just four games after going 18-3 in 2008.

Matsuzaka He's got something to prove. He wasn't healthy last year, so he needs to do what it takes to get ready for the season.

-- Red Sox GM Theo Epstein on pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka

Matsuzaka disputed the team's contention that he was not in condition, and after the season he revealed he had injured his groin, which he didn't report to the Sox. But by then, he'd already infuriated the club when he blamed the team for his troubles in a late summer interview with a Japanese Web site.

"If I'm forced to continue to train in this environment, I may no longer be able to pitch like I did in Japan," Matsuzaka was quoted in the story. "The only reason why I managed to win games during the first and second years was because I used the savings of the shoulder I built up in Japan. Since I came to the major leagues, I couldn't train in my own way, so now I've lost all those savings."

Those comments struck a nerve. Both manager Terry Francona, who rarely criticizes a player publicly, and pitching coach John Farrell took exception.

"To hear him say that is disappointing," Francona said at the time. "At times, he's been his own pitching coach. For $102 million, if [Red Sox owner John Henry] came down and asked, 'What's going on?' and we said, 'We're letting [Daisuke] do it his own way,' he probably wouldn't like that very much. I've talked to Dice and [translator Masa Hoshino]. I've had enough. I think they've had enough of me."

Farrell has spent an inordinate amount of time working with Matsuzaka from the moment he signed with the Sox. Ever the John Wayne presence in the coaches corner, Farrell said during the imbroglio, "We have a responsibility for the size of the investment. It's unfortunate that he feels that way. It's disappointing. This is where two baseball worlds somewhat collide. But there has to be some accountability and responsibility on the part of the player. So the disappointment comes from [him] basically airing his dirty laundry."

The lines of communication supposedly have been repaired, and Matsuzaka came back from a forced exile in Florida to pitch well in September. He scored more goodwill by spending time this winter training at the Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona.

"It's different with every player," Epstein said Monday when asked if the assimilation process should be coming to an end. "We found players that come from a long professional background in Japan have elements of their own training programs that are important to them, and it's an ongoing process to find a happy middle ground."

Has that place been reached?

"I think there's better communication now," Epstein said.

Any chance, then, that the 200-pitch bullpen session, a component of Matsuzaka's training in Japan, is about to resurface?

"I wouldn't expect that," Epstein said. "He's got something to prove. He wasn't healthy last year, so he needs to do what it takes to get ready for the season. He worked hard this winter, but that doesn't guarantee results on the field. I know it's important to him that he has a good year."

Matsuzaka was an early arrival in Florida, but returned to Boston for a couple of days, according to the general manager, who said he'd only seen Matsuzaka briefly last week. Matsuzaka may be back as soon as Tuesday.

"Now it's just a matter of doing it on the field, toeing the rubber and see how it goes," Epstein said.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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